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Nuclear engineer slams industry safety standards: speech given at anti-nuclear protest rally

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A specialist engineer who worked at Hinkley Point nuclear power station for almost 30 years yesterday slammed the nuclear industry’s approach to safety and predicted that a Fukushima-type disaster in the UK was ‘almost inevitable’.

Speaking at a rally organised to oppose the construction of a new mega-reactor at the Somerset power station, Peter Smith said he become increasingly disillusioned with the nuclear industry during his career. “Over the years, I became more and more aware of the dangers and dark side of nuclear power,” he said.

“The industry denies that it ever puts profit before safety but this is a lie. I have seen corner-cutting from the design stage onwards. At Hinkley, major safety systems were omitted and others only implemented after major incidents.”

Smith, who was head of the ‘electrical and instrumentation’ section at Hinkley before he retired, concluded that human error makes it impossible for nuclear power to be 100% safe. “The plant at nuclear power stations is exceptionally complex. Things can and do go wrong. Safety systems fail, mistakes get made, human beings are human beings and they get it wrong and make errors.”

Commenting on EDF Energy’s bid to build a new EPR reactor at Hinkley, Smith added, “The nuclear industry suffers from the delusion that nuclear power is safe. They said that after Three Mile Island, they said it after Chernobyl and they said it after Fukushima. Do we really want Hinkley Point to be the next major disaster?”

Speaking after the rally, Smith said that the likelihood of a major accident in the UK is increasing. “The reason there was never a major incident at Hinkley was because there were experts like me who knew the systems inside out. These experts are now retiring or moving to other sectors. If you combine this brain drain with increasing commercial pressures and old reactors being pushed to perform beyond their intended lifespan, you’re creating a recipe for disaster.”

At the Saturday march and rally in the nearby town of Bridgwater, symbolic barrels of radioactive waste were wheeled through the streets to highlight the fact that tons of high-level radioactive spent fuel will be stored at Hinkley Point for over 100 years if the new plant gets the green light. Protesters carried banners saying, ‘No nuclear waste dump at Hinkley C’ and ‘If the Romans had nuclear power, we’d still be guarding their waste’.

Nancy Birch, spokesperson for the Stop New Nuclear Alliance, said it is time for the government to ditch its nuclear renaissance. “The new EPR reactors will burn fuel so hot that the spent fuel rods will have to be stored on site for over 100 years before it is safe to move them to a long term repository. If the government allows the construction of eight new nuclear power, everyone will have a toxic waste dump in their back yard. This will put many people’s health at risk and highlights the short-sighted and cavalier nature of the government’s energy policy.”

Nancy added that the government’s nuclear renaissance is now on its knees. “Both the investment community and the environmental movement are saying that nuclear power is simply too risky. Japan and France, the heartlands of nuclear power, are pulling back from building more nuclear power stations and German and Chinese energy companies have recently withdrawn from bids to build more reactors in the UK.“

She concluded: “It’s time for a new approach. Germany is moving towards a sustainable energy future that is safe, affordable and nuclear-free. The burning question is, if Germany can do it, why can’t we?”

During the rally, tributes were paid to Crispin Aubrey, the long time anti-nuclear campaigner who died last week. A one minute silence was also held in his honour.

A mass trespass at Hinkley Point will take place tomorrow, Monday (8th). A protest camp has been set up half a mile from the power plant’s main entrance. The Green Party’s new leader, Natalie Bennett, will be giving a speech at the event.


Note to the editor:

Speakers at the rally included CND's chairperson, Kate Hudson. and two refugees from the Fukushima disaster. Anti-nuclear activists from Austria, France, Japan and India were also present.

Other highlights of the event included a protester dressed as a centurion, another dressed as giant squirrel carrying a banner saying, “Nuclear power is nuts, plus a woman dressed as a Japanese geisha and an angler with a sign saying: ‘Gone fission.’

For further details on the rally or the mass trespass contact Nancy Birch on: 07980-509986.

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